My first yoga class was in a library, not a gym or a yoga studio. It was a community school class held at the high school I’d graduated from five years earlier. I remember that class well, even though it was decades ago.
Even though I fell in love with yoga quickly, I only practiced for a few years before I got sidetracked more often than not. I attended classes on and off for 20 years before my practice became an essential part of my lifestyle in 2007. While I can’t know for sure what’s ahead, I can’t imagine a time when yoga won’t be a part of my life.
So, why am I thinking about my first yoga class now?
To understand the context, it would be useful to know that I was raised Catholic, and that was important to me as a young person. I even went to a Jesuit college. And I’ve been a spiritual seeker for as long as I can remember.
Soon after I graduated college, I stopped going to church. I needed a deeper experience of God. That’s when I went to my first yoga class.
My First Yoga Class, or How Managing Stress Helped Me Stay Connected to God
For me, Yoga is a spiritual practice, though I went to that first yoga class to manage the stress of being lost in what seemed to me a non-spiritual world I did not belong in.
I was lucky. The instructor was an Integral Yoga teacher. If she had been a fitness instructor or power yoga instructor, I would have had a very different idea about yoga after that first class. But Candace opened doors to the spiritual side of yoga right away. I can still hear her reminding us at the end of every class that our true nature is peace.
What does that have to do with Christ? More specifically, it has to do with Christ Consciousness, or the idea that the Divine resides within us all, waiting to be revealed—the theme of the book I mentioned above. This way of thinking was not part of my experience as a young Catholic, but it’s part of my experience as a grown-up who has learned to release my attachment to a religion with a name.
That doesn’t mean religion in it’s various forms isn’t important. We need a starting point if we want to grow. A tree can’t be a tree if it’s never a seed
— or if it can’t let go of being a seed.
Back to yoga.
Integral Yoga and Universal Truth
If you’ve ever practiced Integral Yoga, you know it is a relatively gentle, spiritual type of practice. And as the name integral suggests, it’s a synthesis of various branches of Yoga. When it comes to spiritual matters, I’m all about integrating, that is finding what works and what all faith traditions have in common at their core.
As Richard Rohr says, the path to enlightenment is not an exclusive club one needs to join. It’s the realization that God is everywhere, even if you don’t use the name God. (I use it with no apologies.)
At Integral Yoga “headquarters” in Virginia, there is a shrine that honors all faith traditions. My friends who have been there—the shrine is named LOTUS (Light of Truth Universal Shrine)—say it’s magnificent and awe-inspiring. That this shrine exists in the place Integral Yoga calls home hints at how that first yoga class kept me in touch God and deepened my awareness of the sacred in all things.
That first yoga experience open doors to yogic philosophy and Hinduism. Then, I started to explore Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies. And finally, I discovered the Christian mystics. I’d known of them earlier, of course, but it wasn’t until I’d understood mysticism more universally that the Christian mysticism truly began to resonate with me.
My First Yoga Class Helped Me Keep My Faith
I remember early on someone telling me not to through the baby out with the bathwater. I wasn’t too concerned then with what he meant or why he said it. But after a while, I did wonder what happened to the baby.
Fortunately, the new direction I took eventually brought me full circle in a sense. Full spiral might be a better way to look at it. I didn’t return to where I started, but I came to see where I’d been with a new perspective.
Going in Circles
The awesome thing about circles—especially in spiritual terms—is they are infinite. While we sometimes feel like we’re back where we started, what’s really happening is a return to what was always there, ideally with the ability to see it with new eyes.
What I think I’m saying is the more I learn about Yoga, the more I understand Christ. Not Jesus the man, but the Christ that was revealed in Jesus the man.
I’m not talking about something exclusive to Christianity, though the name Christ might lead anyone reading this to think I am. So, let me use a different term: Truth. Jesus was a messenger of truth. The important thing is not whether you belong to one of the religious organizations that developed in Jesus’ name. It’s the message.
For many Christians, the idea that anyone can get the message if they don’t join a group labeled Christian is scary. But truth is what we’re after. And Jesus told us all not to be afraid.
It’s About Love
In the end, no matter what your religion, the higher power is universal love. If that sounds simple, it’s because I’m probably not saying it well. I don’t mean there’s no more spiritual work to do. In fact, it probably means there’s a lot more spiritual work to do, especially if you’re trusting the truth is inside you.
The “you” the truth is inside is not your small ego, but the divine working in you that is part of all creation. That’s pretty big! I learned to describe it this way in my first yoga class, though it was years before I really understood what it meant. I had a lot of letting go to do!
And I’m still letting go. It’s a journey!
Love Does Not Exclude
Love is an inclusive force that drives creation forward. It exists everywhere, even in the dark corners of the universe, in lost souls, and in entities that appear to be nothing but evil. Of course, love, truth, and light are harder to find in some places than others. But it’s always there. As Richard Rohr says, no exceptions!
To know truth is to know mystery. In other words, if you think you’ve got it, you’ll soon find yourself going in circles (or spirals) again. Maybe it will feel a bit like the circling I’ve done in this post as I continue trying to make connections.
The quest for the unifying force that connects all of creation with Source is anything but a straight path!
Would you like to explore more yoga topics in depth—perhaps with a group of yoga friends? Get your copy of Yoga Circles, A Guide to Creating Community off the Mat. You’ll find lots of topics and activities for living the yoga lifestyle and enjoying time with like-minded yogis! Click here to order!
I’m Maria, devoted yogini and author of Yoga Circles. I’m a writer, editor, and content marketing creator. I help small businesses, wellness brands, teachers, and authors publish books, develop marketing strategies, and communicate effectively in writing. Visit my website (link below) to learn how I can help you connect with more readers, clients, and students!